By Steve Williams
The University of Tennessee has thousands of fans scratching their heads again. And that’s putting it mildly.
Only UT could find a way to hire a new athletic director and at the same time alienate one of its finest and most loyal head coaches of all time. Phillip Fulmer, a College Hall of Fame football coach, was only trying to help his alma mater when he made himself a candidate for the AD post.
When Dr. Beverly Davenport, UT’s new chancellor, hired John Currie to be Tennessee’s new athletic director last week, she was bringing back a person who worked with Mike Hamilton, the former AD who couldn’t wait to end the Fulmer era in 2008.
These are the kind of decisions you get when you put somebody in charge of a university who either has no knowledge of its past history or simply doesn’t care.
I never thought I would say this, but I believe UT would be better off today if it still had Jimmy Cheek as its chancellor. I believe Cheek would have listened to the 70 percent of fans who made it clear they wanted to see David Blackburn lead the UT athletics program.
Many of those fans also would have been delighted to see Fulmer come aboard as a No. 2 man in the department with Blackburn.
Fulmer could have been a positive influence for a football program that is trying to get to the next level under Butch Jones. The beloved former head coach also could have been a great fund raiser as well as a public relations ambassador for a university that has longed for a strong leader to unite its fan base after so many years of frustration.
Davenport’s biggest mistake was limiting the selection pool to only sitting athletic directors at Power 5 conference institutions. That eliminated Blackburn from consideration, even though he worked in athletic administration for two decades at UT and has been a highly successful AD at Chattanooga since 2013.
Davenport came here from the University of Cincinnati. She had never before been a chancellor at a Power 5 conference institution. So why would she set such a requirement for AD applicants at Tennessee?
Blackburn, in my opinion, is just as qualified to be UT’s athletic director as Currie, and maybe more so. Blackburn is more of a Tennessee guy, like the majority of fans wanted. David is from Loudon. John is from Chapel Hill.
Other than that, and the fact Currie has been the athletic director at Kansas State since he left UT in 2009, I don’t know a lot about him. Well, except that he has two ears, two eyes and one mouth, so he plans on doing a lot of listening and watching before he makes any moves or changes at Tennessee. (That includes bringing back the Lady Vols logo and nickname for all UT women’s teams, which I thought would be a no-brainer).
I heard that spill three times in less than 24 hours, along with his other stock answers at the press conference, after he was introduced before a crowd of 200 at Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday afternoon.
And I was disappointed to hear, along with many of his former teammates, Peyton Manning was front and center in that crowd, giving his support to the new AD.
Could you imagine the size of the crowd at TBA if Blackburn had been the one introduced? Fulmer would have been there too, and maybe even standing beside him.
That would have been too easy. That would have made more sense. UT, these days, always has to do things that are hard to understand and difficult to explain. No wonder its leaders often stay in hiding for weeks and months at a time.